March 14, 2012
Letters to the Editor: Dennis Prager, religion in politics, J Street
Prager’s ‘Golden Calf’ Column Provokes Response
Dennis Prager’s latest jeremiad (“Our Golden Calf,” March 9) reaches new depths of absurdism. His tired and ludicrous mantra that “leftism” is the cause of humanity’s ills can’t be taken seriously. In one fell swoop, Prager places Stalinism, The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman and Reform Judaism’s Rabbi Eric Yoffie in the same basket. Prager’s McCarthyite screed is shameful. Would Prager ever deign to make the similarly illogical leap of suggesting that “rightism” is solely responsible for the actions of Yigal Amir (Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin) and Baruch Goldstein (the mass murderer of Muslim worshipers in Hebron)? I’ll be waiting, but won’t be holding my breath.
co-founder, Progressive Jewish Alliance
It’s a toss-up as to whether Red Bull or Dennis Prager does a better job of raising my blood pressure. I usually take his “I’m never wrong” pronouncements with a grain of salt, but this week’s sent me to the keyboard. Leftism? Golden calf? Seriously? As a great admirer of Tom Friedman and his well-reasoned opinions, that apparently means that I am one of those whose mind has been poisoned by “leftism.” Prager doesn’t spare Eric Yoffie either despite the Reform leader’s standing as one of the most important and iconic figures in American Jewish life. Rabbi Yoffie had the nerve to ask for respect for Muslim women’s dress choices, which Prager calls “one of the most dehumanizing behaviors to women practiced in the world today.” How about Orthodox women in our own community who wear heavy wigs and headscarves along with ankle- and wrist-covering clothes in the California heat? Could we find that equally “dehumanizing”? I know Prager to be an intelligent man and can only conclude that his language is deliberately intended to provoke rather than enlighten. When it comes to me, he has succeeded.
Barbara H. Bergen
I am writing to thank The Jewish Journal for publishing Dennis Prager’s article. It does a fine job of exposing the tragic consequences of leftist thought in the Jewish community throughout the 20th century. As a Jew, I have, for many years found it very disheartening and puzzling that so many of my Jewish brethren, many of whom have prospered tremendously through the impersonal forces of our free market system, have turned their backs on that system and promoted statist ideas. This nation was founded as a rebuke to statism. I think it can be fairly stated that the entire history of the 20th century stands as a massive rebuke to collectivist politics. Over and over again, it has been shown that socialism (and all of its variants) is a bad idea. People are attracted to it because it gives the illusion of security. In reality, it destroys wealth, the desire to produce wealth, and, most importantly, freedom.
Jeffrey P. Lieb
Dennis Prager has solidly fixed his sights on the “Jewish left.” Now he claims the left is the Jews’ golden calf. To find his own golden calf, Prager need only turn to page 40 in the same issue of The Jewish Journal and read Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater’s definition of the golden calf (“Ultimate Truths,” March 9) — ultimate truths, especially those “truths” held by the right.
Martin A. Brower
Corona del Mar
No Good Comes of Prager’s Vilifying the Left
Dennis Prager has written articles that consistently conflate liberalism with communism. His latest tirade (“Our Golden Calf,” March 9) again misrepresents what the liberal left represents.
The gulf between liberalism and communism is as good as the gulf between conservatism and fascism on the right.
In a previous article he characterized liberalism as “the god that failed.” In fact the phrase applied to communism ... a system that is consistently dictatorial, where civil liberties are curtailed and individualism is squelched. Hardly the description of liberal regimes.
Indeed, liberals extol democracy, individual freedom and honest, meaningful elections. Western democracies have been molded by liberal ideas and in advancing freedom have brought to their societies a level of prosperity unprecedented in history.
Prager’s tendentious comments do justice to neither the facts nor rational discussion of political philosophies.
Why does Prager vilify what he identifies as the “left” with such venom? Throughout history there have been repugnant dictatorships on both the left and right. Fascist repression and brutality is really no different than communist repression and brutality.
In Europe there were the kingdom(s) of Greece, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain and the Nazi Third Reich. In South and Central America there were Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Somoza’s long tenure in Nicaragua, Noriega in Panama and the bloody rule of Pinochet in Chile. No commies among them.
There are also many authoritarian right-wing republics and monarchies that have ruled with iron fists in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The shah in Iran, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Ne Win in Burma, Sudan’s Ahmad al-Bashir — all brutal rulers and not “leftist.”
It seems Prager wants to paint anyone politically to his left as evil and comparable with Stalin and the like. That is simply unfair and unnecessarily polarizing. Kind of like Chomsky does to the right.
Oh, and I wonder what Prager thinks of the initial purely “leftist” modern Israeli social building block: the Kibbutz?
Prager maintains that many Jewish writers “were producing the most pro-Soviet literature in the world.” That statement was probably correct, but if one looks back at the history of the times, one would understand why. My grandparents and their four sons (one of them my father) lived in the town of Zhitomir in western Russia. They used to tell us of the daily pogroms performed by the Czarist Russian soldiers. They told us of the times that my grandparents were forced to run a gauntlet of whips used by the Cossacks. Finally, in 1910, they immigrated to Winnipeg, Canada, getting away from the abuse. When the revolution rid Russia of czarist rule, they felt that Jews would be better off.
For many years my father and these Jewish writers believed that the communists would make things better for Russia; however, the good feelings began to wane when stories came out of the Soviet Union of how Stalin and his thugs took over the nation.
The foregoing presents some facts as to why the feelings were felt by many Jews in Russia, feeling that the persecutions would finally stop. Prager presented facts, but did not delve into the reasons why they wrote as they did.
Syd H. Hershfield
Dennis Prager responds:
I wrote a serious, fact-based piece about the ill effects of leftism on Jewish life. I never attacked people – indeed, my whole point was that leftist Jews were often decent people doing and saying harmful things because of their leftism. In response, Mr. Mirell writes not a word refuting anything I wrote. Instead, he just uses invective: “McCarthyite,” “new depths of absurdism [sic],” “can’t be taken seriously,” “shameful screed.” And his attempt to offer a counter analogy is also unrelated to anything I wrote. Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein were condemned by every major Orthodox and conservative Jewish organization in the world. In fact, conservatives wanted Amir executed; the left wanted him kept alive. On the other hand, Thomas Friedman’s libel of Congress and of the pro-Israel lobby, and Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s defense of the Muslim veil were met by a wall of left-wing Jewish silence.
Moreover, an analogy to a Thomas Friedman is a Charles Krauthammer, not a Yigal Amir. Has any conservative Jewish writer as prominent as Friedman or the other left-wing Jews I cited ever said anything damaging to the Jews? And I did not place Stalinism and Thomas Friedman “in the same basket.” Rather, I showed, in example after example, how Jews have been seduced — from the Yiddish press’s uniquely enthusiastic support for Soviet communism to Thomas Friedman’s repetition of an anti-Semitic libel — to do and say awful things because of their leftism. That explains Mr. Mirell’s letter as well.
Religion and Politics: Like Oil and Water?
In Rob Eshman’s editorial “Bad Religion” (March 9), he posits that we leave religion out of presidential campaigns because of the discussion over the recent mandate to employer’s health insurance requiring all businesses, even those that are religiously affiliated to cover the cost of birth control.
Eshman spends the next 400-500 words poking fun and insulting the Catholic Church and its beliefs; indeed he pretends a holier-than-thou attitude urging his agenda concerning birth control and contraception above the rights of Catholics to believe as they choose in a country that protects their right to do that.
You would think that a people who have known so much of this very type of discrimination for hundreds of years would somehow understand that not all people are going to think like us all of the time. Jews like Rob Eshman, Rachel Maddow and that shadowy character who anonymously composed that haiku, if he was Jewish, need a lesson on how to be tolerant of others’ beliefs.
At this point I must admit that my own beliefs on this issue probably fall a little closer on the side of Eshman’s rather than of the Catholic Church, but I know something Rob Eshman doesn’t. I take very seriously the idea of freedom of religion in this country. And, no matter what he says, Rush Limbaugh be damned, it is one of the pillars of our democracy and we ought to band together to protect it with our lives.
Although in a different context I’m sure, Eshman quotes in his article the Kennedy speech from the 1960s about separation of church and state, “religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against us all.” We Jews should be especially sensitive and celebrate a statement like this. Why doesn’t Eshman do that?
We Jews should remember that it wasn’t too long ago that we were in that same hot seat as the Catholics are now, being pulled and forced away from our beliefs so we could become like everybody else. Ironically, it was the Catholic Church that was the biggest culprit of that oppression. The Church has done a lot of painful soul searching during the last 60 years, finding ways to apologize for past transgressions against the Jewish people as well as trying to build bridges with us now. They aren’t all the way there but the Church has made courageous strides in that direction. We ought to recognize them as brothers and work to protect all of our religious freedoms, not mock and insult them as Eshman has done here.
Businesses with strong religious leanings either through their ownership or their affiliation to a religion — whether Catholic, Orthodox Jewish or Evangelical Christian — should not be forced to go against their own doctrines concerning the right to life. Keep American liberty for all, not just the minority that thinks like Eshman, Maddow and some others who smugly believe they are better than the rest of us because they live on reason, not on faith.
By the way, I wonder if this [had been] CAIR and the Muslim community throwing up these red flags rather than the Catholics, if Eshman would have written this editorial exactly this way. Something tells me it would be different. It might not have even made the pages of The Journal just out of fear, but oh well, that is a different issue, isn’t it?
A comment on something in Rob Eshman’s March 9 piece about religion in politics. Eshman concludes that if Catholic institutions are allowed not to cover contraception in the health insurance they provide for their employees, this is the same as these institutions imposing their religion on non-Catholic employees. Using this “logic,” I suppose that if there were a state law saying all employers must provide lunch for their employees, and a non-Jewish worker at an Orthodox shul demanded pork or shellfish on the menu, and the shul refused to provide it because Jewish dietary laws forbid such things, the shul would be imposing its religion on the non-Jewish employee.
Do We Really Need J Street?
The op-ed “American Jews Need J Street” (March 2) was a perfect example of why J Street’s message has failed to resonate with the majority of American Jews. The authors don’t seem to realize how self-righteous they sound when they act like they’re the only ones who care about peace and human rights, as though they’re the conscience that the rest of the Jewish community is mysteriously missing. Guess what, J Street? Those who disagree with you may in fact want peace and human rights for all, yet also recognize that to effectively achieve these goals one must use methods that don’t ignore everything that happened before today. Your idealistic platitudes sound nice, but unfortunately that’s about all they do.
Let’s be clear: People don’t mistrust J Street because it cares about the rights of Palestinians. Rather, it’s because J Street doesn’t seem to care about the rights of Jews. The Jewish community is rightfully skeptical of a group that arranged meetings for Richard Goldstone on Capitol Hill, supported a U.N. Resolution condemning Israel, expressed support for Hamas-Fatah unity, hosted leaders of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement at their conference and lobbied Congress against a resolution condemning incitement in Palestinian schools. Is this really what “American Jews need”?
co-founder Tikvah: Students for Israel (UC Berkeley)